Shaving the Yak — such is life

How do you live your truth in a system designed for distractions?

Marianne de Pierres
4 min readAug 8, 2021

If someone asked me to reflect on my life, I’d probably say something like “yeah, I’m the woman who missed the moments.” I watched Veronica Mars for the first time in 2017, The OC in 2020, drank my first red wine when I was 50, and learned the meaning of “Shaving the Yak” when I was 60.

Being late to the party is kind of my tribute song. Annoyingly, it means there’s no one to hoot and holler with, about what you’re just discovering/crushing on.

Also, I regularly feel slightly… well… dumb.

So this week I heard the expression “shaving the yak” for the first time. A very polite gentleman I was interviewing, explained to me that it meant wanting to solve a problem, but running into a bunch of other problems you have to navigate, to get to the thing you want to do. It first got wings after a Ren and Stimpy show in the early 2000s. And for those of you that prefer a visual cue, here’s Hal doing it in Malcolm in the Middle, circa 2001.

Bianca Samut (original)

It got me thinking about how much of our lives are spent shaving yaks. I mean, how do you ever get to actually enact the things that embody your authentic self, in a (human) system designed for distraction?

Just this week, I wanted to work on my new novella — my equivalent of living my truth. In order to sit down to do that, I had to do a massive update on my PC, then trouble shoot why the screen wouldn’t restart. The screen finally rebooted, but the Word file had corrupted. It was backed up on the cloud, so no biggie! But my Internet went down while I was trying to download it, and I had to call the provider and find out wtf? was going on. They bounced me to the wholesaler, who told me there were no NBN outages in my area. And so it went… Three hours after I sat down to be in my truth, I was actually ready to do it. But my window had gone and I had to step away to attend to other parts of my life.

One yak shaved.

More than ever, we are pouring energy into (i.e., spending money on, devoting conversation and brain space to, piling on guilt about) ways to live more authentically, be more “in our own bodies”, find our truth, be purpose-led. But are we setting ourselves up for a big fat fail?

Ask yourself: how do you even find your raison d’etre under that pile of steaming life stuff? Should you? Do you want to?

The human way is the way of distraction, and it’s getting worse, not better. The average attention span is changing - though there is controversy around just what that means. Content shock seems to be a thing. We live in a response-to-demand deficit — there are more demands than we can service — and some of us are addicted to that feeling. We are filled up by it. It’s as though we’re worried if we stop rushing around shaving yaks and fielding distractions, life will become empty and pointless.

But, perhaps (just putting this out there), being human is what’s stopping us from finding ourselves?

Brene Brown might say the answer is…

But even if I am enough, you are enough, we are enough… does it mean we ever get to do what feeds our souls, our minds, and our hearts?

At twenty, none of this would have worried me. I skipped and jumped my way across life like a frog flirting with lillpads. But now I’m heading to the pointier end, I can’t help wondering… how can I minimise the yaks and get to the things I most want to do? Is “being human” the problem?

Or do I just need to accept that I’m going to be late to the party. Again.

Photo by Peter Lloyd on Unsplash



Marianne de Pierres

Author of science fiction, crime, young adult fiction, articles on life, business, and the future. Pretty awful poet. Nascent songwriter. Words+Music=42